United States Loses Fight to Block U.N. Vote on Enforcement of Torture Treaty
The Associated Press, July 24, 2002
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. July 24 —
UNITED NATIONS (AP) The United States failed to block a U.N. vote Wednesday on a plan to strengthen a treaty on torture, and was widely criticized by allies for trying to do so.
The United States argued that the measure, known as a protocol, could pave the way for international and independent visits to U.S. prisons and to terror suspects being held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
The objective of the protocol is “to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.”
The protocol to the treaty passed late Wednesday by a vote of 35-8 with 10 abstentions in the U.N. Economic and Social Council. The United States abstained.
A U.S. proposal to reopen 10 years of negotiations on the document was voted down 29-15 with the rest abstaining.
The protocol now moves to the General Assembly where it would need to be approved by a majority of the 190 member states. Then, it will require 20 ratifications before it can go into force.
However, if the United States chooses not to sign the document it will not be bound by it.
Denmark, which read a statement on behalf of the European Union, accused the United States of intentionally stalling in order to kill the proposal. Costa Rica, which sponsored the plan, “urged all delegations to vote against,” the American request to reopen negotiations.
Human rights advocates and diplomats argued that the protocol was essential to enforce the international convention on torture passed 13 years ago and since ratified by about 130 countries, including the United States. Countries are supposed to enforce the convention on their own, but rights groups argue that that isn’t working everywhere.
People were tortured or ill-treated by authorities in 111 countries last year, according to an Amnesty International report.
Technically, the protocol seeks visits to prisons as a way to help enforce the anti-torture convention, which the United States has ratified.
But the United States said elements of the plan were incompatible with the U.S. constitution. Privately, U.S. diplomats said allowing outside observers into state prisons would infringe on states’ rights.
The protocol was widely supported among Western European and Latin American countries. The United States was supported by some countries accused by Amnesty International of torture, including Nigeria and Iran. Other U.S. support came from Japan, China, Cuba, Cyprus, India, Pakistan and Egypt.
Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch, said: “This is actually a great vote because the U.S. tried and failed.”
Decisions by the Bush administration to back out of a protocol on climate control and talks on biological weapons have greatly frustrated its relationships at the United Nations.
On The Net:
U.S. Mission to the United Nations: http://www.un.int/usa/
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights: http://www.unhchr.org
Amnesty International report: http://www.stoptorture.org